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Sierra Leonne Proverbs

Here is a selection of proverbs from Sierra Leonne, they were compiled from a list that was circulating around Freetown a few years ago.


"IF A BIN NO," NA-IN DE LAS (NA-IN OHLWES DE BIEHN). "If I had only known!" always comes too late.

"KAM OHP, GO DOHN," NOH GO FIT OHDA POHSIN IN WEHF. (Kono) "Come up, go down," is not appropriate with another man's wife.

A GEHT BOHKU SINGG FOH PIKIN, BOHT A NOH GEHT PIKIN. I have a lot of songs for children, but I have no child.

A NOH DE BLEM FUFU, PAS OHKROH (NA OHKROH A DE BLEM). I don't blame the fufu, I blame the okra.

ABOHBOH NOH WAN KOL WATA, PAS WAM WATA. Cooked beans don't want cold water, only hot water. A child doesn't respond to persuasion, but only to compulsion.

ARATA NA BIG MOHRE-MAN, BOHT I NOH GO PRE PAN PUS KANDA. The rat is a big shaman, but he's not going to pray on cat skin.

AS YU MEK YU BED, NA SO YU GO LEDOHN PAN AM. As you make your bed, so you shall lie on it. Used positively rather than negatively, it means that one will enjoy the fruits of one's labor.

BAD MAN BEHTEH PAS EMHTI BED. A bad husband is better than an empty bed.

BEGA-BEGA NOH DE PIK EHN CHUZ. [BEGAMAN NOH NO IN CHOIS.] A beggar can't pick and choose.

BIFO I BOHN, LEH I SOK. Before it burns, let it get wet.

BIG MOHT NOH NO IN MASTA IN POH WAN. A big mouth doesn't know that its master is poor.

BLAK TREHD NOH ROWND PIJIN IN NEHK, A NOH GO SE DOV. The black thread won't go around the pigeon's neck, much less the dove's. There isn't enough for me, so there's no question of my giving any away.

BUSH NOH DE FOH TROWE BAD PIKIN. Bad children may not be thrown into the bush. No matter how bad a child may turn out to be, he can't be disowned by his family.

DOHTI WATA SEHF KIN OHT FAIA. Even dirty water can put out a fire. The wider meaning is, "Any port in a storm," but it is often used as a sexual allusion.

DRINKMAN IN WALEHT NA BOHTUL. A drunkard's wallet is a bottle.

EHLIFANT HED NOHTO PIKIN LOD. An elephant head is not a load for a child.

EHMTI BAG NO DE TINAP. An empty bag cannot stand.

FEHT FOH YU HED, MEHK YU FUT KOHBA: YU SE YU DADI DE GRAMA SKUL. Fight for your head, cover your feet: You say your dad is in grammar school.

FLAI WE DE FASHIN PAN DEHD BOHDI, NA DEHN TU DEHN GO BEHRI. (Kono) If you join bad companions, they will drag you down with them.

FOH PUT HAN OHNDA BOHLS, NA FOH REHSPEHT, BOHT IF NOH MIN SE IF YU PUL YU HAN DE, I GO KOHT. (Kono) To put your hand over your testicles (when washing) is for your self respect, but that doesn't mean that if you take your hand away they'll fall off.

FOHL NOH LE EG, I SE I DE GO HACH AM. (Mende) The chicken hasn't laid an egg, it says it's going to hatch it.

FOHL WE NOH YEHRI "SSST" GO YEHRI STON. A chicken who doesn't hear "ssst" will hear a stone.

GO SIDOHN."Tit for tat." "An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth."

HOHK IN BOHDI NOH BIG PAN AM, PAS IN FEHDA IN VOIS. (Kono) The hawk's body isn't big, just the sound of its wings.

IF KAKROCH SE I DE DANS, KOHL KAK, LEH I KAM NAK SANGBA FOH-RAM. If the cockroach says he will dance, call the cock, have him come and beat the drum for him.

IF KRESMAN TEK YU KLOS, YU NOH FOH ROHN AFTA-RAM YU NEKEHD WAN. IF YU DU AM, DEHN GO TEK UNA TU AS KRESMAN DEHN. (Kono) If a madman takes your clothes you shouldn't run after him naked. If you do, people will think that both of you are crazy.

IF MOHTA-MAN BIN TAN LEHK POHNKI, YU FOH NAK AM FOH SI SE I FUL BIFO YU PIK AM. If a human being were like a pumpkin, you could thump him to see if he was full before you picked him.

IF PIKIN SE NA IN NEM BANANA LIF, WE BRIZ KOHMOHT, UNA LEHF AM. (Kono) If a child says his name is Banana Leaf, when a wind comes up, drop him.

IF WI BOHDI DE DOHTI, I GO BIGIN PAN WI FUT. If our body gets dirty, it begins with our feet.

IF WUMAN BIN TAN LEHK FUFU, MAN GO FIL AM BIFO I MARED AM. If a woman were like fufu, a man could feel her before he married her.


IF YU DE GO NA HIL FOH PUL SARA FOH DEHN DEHBUL DEHN, YU MITOHP DEHN NA ROD, YU GO GO EGEN? (Mende) If you are going to the hill to make a sacrifice for the devils there and you meet them on the way, will you still go?

IF YU LISTIN PAN MAKIT NOIS, YU NOH GO BAI WETIN YU WANT. If you listen to the market noise, you won't buy what you want.

IF YU NOH LEHK DI FRUT, YU NOH FOH LEHK DI SID. (Mende) If you don't like the fruit, you shouldn't like the seed.

IF YU TEK TEHM KIL ANCH (MASKITA) YU GO SI IN GOHT. If you kill an ant (mosquito) carefully, you will see its guts.

IF YU TROWE ASIS, ASIS GO FALA YU. If you throw ashes, ashes will follow you. If you try to make trouble for others, you will bring it upon yourself.

IF YU WAN WET FOH SAN, SIDOHN NIA FAIA. (Kono) If you want to achieve something, you have to suffer first.

IF YU WANT OHL, YU DE LOHS OHL. If you want everything, you will lose everything.

IF YU YAMS WET, KOHBA-RAM. If your yam is white, cover it.

INCH NO IN MASTA, KABASLOHT NO IN MISIS. An implication knows its master (just as) a dress knows its mistress. Used to warn people when you are aware you are the object of their insinuating remarks.

IVIN WOHM SEHF KIN VEHKS. (Kono) Even a worm can get angry. Enough is enough. "Even a worm will turn." Worms live in swamps, and are therefore assumed to have a "cold" temperment

KAKA NOH GEHT BON, BOHT WE YU MAS AM, YU GO TIPTO. Shit doesn't have bones, but when you step on it you'll tiptoe.

KAKROCH NOH DE GO NA MAKIT, BOHT I DE IT PAMAI. The cockroach doesn't go to market, but it eats palm oil.

KAKROCH NOH GEHT POWA NA FOHL KOHNTRI. The cockroach has no power in chicken country.

KAPU SEHNS, NOH KAPU WOHD. Seize on the sense, don't seize on the word.

KHAKI NOH DU FOH S.I., POHTA SE I WAN LOHNG PANKS [FOH YAD]. There's not enough khaki for the S.I. (Senior Inspector), the porter says he wants long pants (four yards)

KOHNI-MAN DAI, KOHNI-MAN BEHR AM. When a cunning man dies, it's a cunning man who buries him.

KOLA KOHMOHT NA MOHT, I FOHDOHN NA POHKIT. The cola nut falls out of the mouth, it drops into the pocket.

KUMBRA FOHL NOH DE JOHMP FAIA. A mother hen doesn't jump over the fire.

LEH OHLMAN PADUL IN YON KENU. (Kono) Let everyone paddle his own canoe.

LEH WI KLEM HIL, LEH WE IT KANYA. (Kono and Mende) Let's climb the hill and eat kanya. Then what will give us the strength to climb the hill? "Putting the cart before the horse."

LEHPEHT NOH GEHT SHAP TIT, BOHT NA-IN JABON TROHNG. The leopard doesn't have sharp teeth, but its jaw is strong.

MAN FAIN SOTE, NOHTO MAN GO MARED AM. (Kono) No matter how good-looking a man is, it's not a man who will marry him. A man may marry for beauty, but women marry for money.

MAN WE DE CHAM GRANAT NA TRIT, I GO SWALA DE HAF NA HOSPITUL. A man who chews peanuts on the street will swallow the half in the hospital.

MAN WE GEHT WUMAN, I BEHTEH PAS PALAMPO. A man with a wife is better off than a bachelor.

MBLAMA! MBLAMA! LUK MOTOKA TINAP! Mblama! Mblama! There's the vehicle!

MEHN DOHG FOH GOHVMEHNT. Raise a dog for the government.

MI NA WATASAISTON: A NOH DE MUV. I am a waterside stone: I'm immoveable.

MOHNI NA HAN, BAK NA GROHN. Money in the hand, back on the ground.

MOHNKI NOHBA [NOH GO] LEHF IN BLAK HAN. A monkey will never be rid of its black hands. A bad person, especially a thief, will never give up his bad ways. "A leopard won't change his spots."

MOHNKI TOHK, MOHNKI YEHRI. Monkey talks, monkey listens. Persons who think alike will understand one another.

MOHNKI WOK, BABU IT. The monkey works, the baboon eats.

NA PLE-PLE KIL BOHD. It's playing around that kills the bird.

NA TU HAN DE KROHB BAK. (Kono) It takes two hands to scrub a back.

NA WAN WUMAN KIN PWEHL WATASAI ROD. (Kono) It only takes one woman to spoil the waterside path.

NIU LOHV NOH DE LEHF KOLA NA HOL. (Kono) New love doesn't leave cola nuts in a hole.

NIU LOHV NOH SABI BEHN WES. New love doesn't notice a crooked rear. "Love is blind" first.

NIUS NOH GEHT FUT, BOHT I DE WAKA. News has no feet, but it travels.

NOH DAI BIFO YU TEHM. (Kono) Don't die before your time.

NOH KOHL DOHG WE YU GEHT TIK NA YU HAN. (Kono) Don't call a dog when you have a stick in your hand.

NOHBOHDI NOH DE WAS WATA. (Mende) Nobody washes water.

NOHTO EHVRI DE NA KRISMES. Every day is not Christmas.

OGIRI DE LAF KENDA FOH SMEHL. Ogiri laughs at kenda on account of its smell. Kenda and ogiri, when uncooked, are both rank-smelling seasonings. "The pot calling the kettle black."

OHL KRAI DU FOH BEHRIN. Any kind of crying will do for a funeral.

OL FAIAWUD NOH HAT FOH KECH. Old firewood is not hard to rekindle.

PAMAI NOH DU PAN BONDO PIKIN, YU ROHB AM NA IN FUT? (Mende) There's not enough palm oil for the Bondo girl, you rub it on her foot?

PIKIN NOH GO KOHNFEHS SE NA-IN KIL IN DADI IN TON: IN MAMA GO KWIZ IN TROT. (Mende) A child won't confess that he made his father impotent (through witchcraft): his mother will strangle him.

PIKIN SABI ROHN, BOHT I NOH SABI HAID. A child knows how to run, but he doesn't know how to hide.

PIKIN WE NOH YEHRI IN MAMA IN WOHD, NA TRIT GO MEHN AM. A child who doesn't listen to its mother will be brought up by the street. A child who is disobedient at home will eventually have to face the consequences of a poor upbringing.

POH MAN [HEHNGGMAN] NOH GEHT SAIS. A poor man has no size.

POHSIN NOH DE LAN PAN YU MARED WUMAN. (Kono) A man doesn't learn on your wife.

POHSIN WE DE LUK FEHT, I NOH NO SE FEHT TRANGGA. A person who's watching the fight doesn't know that the fight is hard.

POHSIN WE NOH DE TOT LOD NO NOH SE LOD HEBI. A person who's not carrying the load doesn't know that the load is heavy.

POHSIN WE SNEK IN HED NOH DE TU, NA-IN DE SE "SHEK AM." (Kono) The person who's not standing near the snake's head is the one who says "shake it."

PUSH-PUSH DE STOHP PAN WOHL. Pushing stops at the wall.

PUT FAIA NA IN BAKSAI.] [IF YU NOH PUT FAIA NA TOHTOIS IN BAKSAI, I NOH GO WAKA.] Some people will do a thing only under compulsion.

SABI NOH GEHT WOHRI. [SABI-MAN NOH WOHRI.] Knowledge has no worry.

SEHN KAKROCH FOH GO KOHL FOHL. Send a cockroach to go call a chicken.

SHUB LILIBIT PAS EHMTI BED. "Move over a little" is better than an empty bed.

SIRA-MAN DOHN FOHDOHN WIT IN MOTOKA. The Lebanese has had a car accident.

SNEK NOH GEHT BOHNDUL. A snake has no baggage.

TEK DRAI-YAI KOHBA SHEM. Trying to brazen it out.

TIFMAN NOH LEHK IN KOHMPIN. A thief dislikes his fellow thief.

TING WE NOH DU FOH WAN MAN, IF TU MAN IT AM, NA STAVESHOHN. There's not enough of a thing for one man, if two men eat it it's starvation.

TINK WETIN YU DE TOHK, NOH TOHK WETIN YU DE TINK. Think what you say, don't say what you think.


TOHTOIS WAN TRIMBUL, BOHT I NOH GEHT DI BOHDI. (Kono) The tortoise wants to tremble, but it doesn't have the body.

TREHNKMAN NOH DE FEHN PALAVA. A strong man doesn't provoke arguments.

TRENJA NOH SABI BAD ROD. A stranger doesn't know a bad road.

TROHKI WAN BOHKS, BOHT IN HAN SHOHT (BOHT I NOH GEHT HAN). The turtle wants to box, but its arms are too short (but it has no arms.)

TU TROHBUL, WAN GOHD. Two troubles, one God.

WAN FINGGA NOH GO EBUL OPIN BAKSAI. (Kono) One finger can't open up an anus.

WAN FINGGA NOH GO EBUL PUL LOHS NA HED. One finger can't pick a louse off the head.

WAN FINGGA NOH GO EBUL TEK BANGGA. (Temne) One finger can't pick up a palm kernel.

WAN FINGGA NOH GO TEK STON. One finger can't pick up a stone.

WAN FUT. BOHT IF YU DANS WIT TU FUT, DEHN GO KOHT DI OHDA WAN OHNDA YU. (Kono) When you go to a country where the people dance on one foot, you should dance on one foot as well. If you dance on two feet, they'll cut one of them from under you.

WAN MAN NOH DE FUL BOHKS. One man can't fill the box. A woman needs several lovers to fulfill her material wants.

WAN TIK NOH DE MEK FOHREHST. (Mende) One tree doesn't make a forest.

WANT-WANT NOH GEHT, GEHT-GEHT NOH WANT. Those who want don't have, those who have don't want.

WATA NOH GO FOHGEHT IN OLD ROD. (Kono) Water never forgets its old bed.

WE FOHL WET, I WET. When a chicken is white, it's white.

WE HOHNI GO INSAI YU FUT, IF YU LEHF AM DE, YU DOHN LEHF HOHNI OIL DE; IF YU PUL AM, YU DOHN PWEHL YU FUT. (Kono) When a bee goes inside your foot, if you leave it there you've left honey there; if you remove it, you've spoiled your foot.

WE KAKROCH WAN HALAKI, I DE GO INSAI PAMAI BOHTUL [I SE I DE MARED NA FOHL KOHNTRI]. When a cockroach wants to come to grief, he goes inside a palm oil bottle [he says he will marry in chicken country].

WE LEPEHT DAI, IN BOHDI SOHFA. (Kono) When the leopard dies, his body suffers.

WE PIKIN BUTU, REN KOHT; IF BIG MAN BUTU NOW, NOHTO DRAI SIZIN GO KAM? (Kono) When a child bends down, the rain stops; if an adult bends down then, won't dry season come?

WE PUS NOH DE, ARATA TEK CHAJ. When the cat's away, the rat takes charge.

WETIN DE PAN YAMS WE NEHF NOH SABI? [WETIN DE INSAI POHNGKI WE NEHF NOH NO?] What is there about yams (inside a pumpkin) that a knife doesn't know?

WETIN DOHTI BOI WANT: POHMP LOHK. What the dirty boy wants: the pump is locked.

WOHD NOH GEHT YES, BOHT I DE YEHRI FA. A word has no ears, but it hears far.

WOK WE YU DE DU, NA-IN YU DE TEK PE FOH. It's the work you do that you get paid for.


YU DU MI, A DU YU: MOSES' LAW. You do unto me, I do unto you: Moses' Law

YU FOHDOHN FOH MI, A FOHDOHN FOH YU. You fall for me, I fall for you.


YU GO CHAM FOH POHSIN, BOHT YU NOH GO SWALA FOH-RAM. You can chew for a person, but you can't swallow for him.

YU KOHBA SMOK SOTE, I MOHS KOHMOHT. No matter how you try to cover up smoke, it must come out. A person's bad character cannot be long hidden.

YU NOH JEHNTRI, YU SE YU NOH DE IT DOHG. (Kono) You're not rich, you say you won't eat dog. "Beggars can't be choosers."

YU SI KLOWD DEHN DE KAM, YU MEHMBA SE DOH DOHN KLIN. (Mende) You see clouds coming, you think that it's daybreak. Don't be deceived by appearances.

YU WAN KAKA, BOHT YU NOH WAN IT. You want to shit, but you don't want to eat. You want the reward, but you don't want to work to get it.

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